Hawthorne looks to get off the mat
Published: Monday, August 12, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 9, 2013 at 7:56 p.m.
It has been a struggle for Hawthorne High School's football program the past few seasons.
2012 record: 0-10
Coach: Ellis Walker (Second year)
Key games: Sept. 20 vs. Hilliard; Sept. 27 at P.K. Yonge; Oct. 18 at Trenton
Players to watch: D'Kadrian Allen, RB/DB/WR, Sr.; Torres Williams, QB/S/P, Jr.; Dionte Mann, FB/OLB, Sr; Deandre Turner, RB/LB, Sr.; Charlie Thomas, TE/DL, Sr.
(all games at 7:30 p.m. unless noted)
Aug. 30 TBD
Sept. 6 Interlachen
Sept. 13 Williston
Sept. 20 Hilliard*
Sept. 27 at P.K. Yonge 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 Idle
Oct. 11 at Jax Seacoast Christian
Oct. 18 at Trenton*
Oct. 25 at Bronson*
Nov. 1 Bell*
Nov. 8 at The Villages
*District 6-1A games
Note: Hawthorne was suppose to play at Ocala St. John Lutheran on Aug. 30, but the Saints canceled their season
Only four years removed from a state semifinal appearance, roster issues and coaching changes left the Hornets reeling last year, culminating in a winless campaign in 2012. The Hornets missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
But Ellis Walker, in his second year as coach, has brought stability to the program. He believes the time has come for Hawthorne to turn things around as they enter their third year in District 6-1A.
“Just like in life, stability is of major importance,” Walker said. “Kids have to know you're going to be there. Not only the kids that are playing but the kids that are coming. That stability is paramount.”
Walker came in last year as the fifth coach in nine years. Coach James Sims led Hawthorne for two years before resigning in February 2012, and was replaced by assistant Tracy Scott, who stepped down only a week after being picked. Walker, who also serves as Hawthorne's track coach, got the job, but knew he had a challenge ahead.
The Hornets stayed positive, Walker said, despite facing almost insurmountable trials. Despite the 0-10 season, he said his team learned a lot about themselves.
“(They learned) not to give up,” Walker said. “With the schedule, we had no control over that. Once the schedule's made, you still have to play. Whether it's a big school or small school (we're playing), we've got to strap up and give it our all, give 100 percent.
But with stability in place, things are looking up for the Hornets. Returning is senior running back/defensive back/receiver D'Kadrian Allen, who led the team with 820 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.
Joining Allen as team leaders are junior quarterback/safety Torres Williams, junior fullback/linebacker Dionte Mann, and senior running back/linebacker Deandre Turner. New to the team is tight end/defensive lineman Charlie Thomas, a senior who never played for the football team, but is a basketball standout who Walker said will contribute greatly. All are expected to lead the Hornets on both sides of the ball, Walker said.
Hawthorne is switching back to the spread after running a Wing-T offensive set last season. Walker said the new scheme will play to his roster's strengths.
“We don't have the big hogs up front, so we have to utilize what we have,” Walker said. “We have a lot of team speed, so we'll spread people out, get them to the corners, get some quick hitters and move the ball down the field.”
On defense, Walker is moving to a 4-4 from a 5-2 last season. He expects much more aggressiveness this year from his defensive squad.
“We just plan to swarm around the ball,” he said. “All 11 players, wherever the ball is, that's where we want our defensive players to be.”
Because Ocala St. John Lutheran canceled its season, Hawthorne is currently looking for an opponent for Aug. 30. It opens three straight home dates on Sept. 6, beginning with 4A Interlachen, followed by Williston and Hilliard in its district opener.
Walker recognized that last season was tough, but he saw the fight in his team and knows they have the will to compete in 2013.
“Last year against Trenton (a 55-20 loss), they could've given up,” Walker said. “But they stayed in there and they fought through it. Also against Providence, had we played the whole year the way we had against Providence, that could've been us going to state representing Class 1A. The kids, they see that they can, and that's the whole key.”